6.1           INTRODUCTION

6.1.1         Paragraph 6.4(3) of the Study Brief states that:

6.1.2           "The Consultants shall recommend...a list of possible indicators against which changes in landscape resources can be measured and evaluated over time. The indicator(s) to be recommended shall meet the guiding principles and selection criteria for indicators developed under SUSDEV21...for future incorporation in the sustainability evaluation tool adopted by Government."

6.1.3         A set of two Landscape Indicators was produced in Technical Report No.2 of this Study. The proposed Indicators were to measure two key elements of landscape:

6.1.4         This Chapter presents a Revised Indicator which has been developed in response to comments made this previously proposed Indicator. In particular, comments raised concerning the Indicator as a result of TR2 were:

6.2           BACKGROUND TO INDICATORS GENERALLY              


6.2.1         The Indicators developed under the SUSDEV21 study are aimed at providing decision makers with means of capturing in a manageable form the full range of economic, environmental and social issues associated with a particular decision, and therefore contribute to defining and measuring progress towards sustainable development. For ease of use, and to encourage those responsible for developing projects and plans in the HKSAR Government to ‘think sustainably’, the indicators are incorporated within a decision support tool called the CASET, which guides users through a detailed consideration of the effects their project or plan may have on life in Hong Kong.

6.2.2         In addition, by succinctly summarising the issues and concerns, the indicators provide an effective means of communicating and discussing the sustainability implications of different courses of action with stakeholders such as the public, the business sector and Non-Governmental Organisations. This very much reflects the intention of Chapter 40 of Agenda 21, which identifies the development of indicators for sustainable development as a key activity for improving decision-making.

6.2.3         Indicators can thus be very simply described as quantified information which helps to explain how things change over time, and which can then used to assess how sustainable a society’s activities are over time. The role of sustainable development indicators in policy and project appraisal is particularly important since:

6.2.4         The indicators developed in the SUSDEV21 study represent the final, most specific, level in a process of focusing in from a broad definition of what sustainable development means for the HKSAR, through the elaboration of that definition in Guiding Principles, which express the sustainability aims for particular aspects of life in Hong Kong, such as the economy, or natural resource use, to the indicators themselves, which, as pointed out above, encapsulate a range of particular issues associated with each Guiding Principle, and quantitatively express them.               


6.2.5         In the Spring of 2001, the Government inaugurated the Sustainable Development Unit (SDU) comprising a small team of sustainability specialists, reporting directly to the Chief Secretary via the Director of Administration.

6.2.6         One of the main responsibilities of the Unit is to champion the consideration of sustainability issues in Government decision making, principally via encouraging and assisting Departments and Bureaux in undertaking ‘sustainability assessments’ of the larger projects and policies they develop. This puts into action an initiative announced by the Chief Executive in his 1999 Policy Address to require all major projects and policies to be subjected to such an assessment.

6.2.7         As part of their efforts to fulfill this responsibility, the SDU has recently promulgated a Guidance Note, “Guideline on Sustainability Assessment” which has been distributed to all Bureaux and Departments.

6.2.8         The guidance issued by the SDU does not mandate the use of the CASET tool, which is the current repository of the sustainability indicators, in undertaking these assessments. However, the SDU has devoted considerable effort in the past eight months to providing training in the use of the tool to Department and Bureau representatives, and in explaining its benefits. The use of the tool, and hence the consideration of the indicators, is thus being actively encouraged within Government.

6.2.9         An interesting development in the CASET tool is that several new indicators have been added to the original suite developed in the SUSDEV21 study, while several of the original indicators have been modified, illustrating the ‘live’ nature of the tool and its intended ability to evolve and adjust to changing circumstances and priorities. The current study is thus another contributor to the evolution and improvement of the sustainability evaluation process.


6.2.10       There are a number of attributes that influence how successful an indicator will be at achieving the aims outlined above. In an ideal world, all indicators would have all of these attributes, but that is very rarely achievable, and the pragmatic approach usually adopted is to use them as a guide when selecting indicators with the aim of capturing as many of them as possible.

6.2.11       The attributes have evolved internationally over time with the use of indicators, and the indicators developed for SUSDEV21 have been based upon them. The SUSDEV21 Study Reports also recommended that they be referred to when identifying future indicators, such as under the current Study. The attributes are that indicators should be:

6.2.12       In addition to the ‘over-arching’ attributes above, the development of sustainability indicators for SUSDEV 21 was also guided by a number of study-specific criteria, which, again, would also be applicable to future indicators. These are described in Table 6.1 below.

                    Table 6.1 Indicator Criteria for SUSDEV 21

Capable of Prediction. Since the purpose of the indicators developed for the study was to provide the basis for the CASET decision support tool, it was important that they were formulated in such a way as to facilitate prediction of changes in their value resulting from the evaluation of strategic policies and projects.

Uni-Directional. Since the indicators are used to evaluate the implications of policy, it is important that changes in the indicator can be interpreted in a straightforward manner. For example the reason for a change in direction of some indicators, in particular those associated with resourcing, may be ambiguous. Taking an indicator on crime rate as an example, the cause of an increase in the indicator could be differently interpreted as either a worsening of the crime situation, or conversely an increase in crime detection as a result of greater police resourcing. Indicator formulation for the study therefore needed to be undertaken with care so that changes in the indicator can be linked to clear changes in underlying conditions.

Number of Indicators. In selecting indicators to represent the range of guiding principles, a significant hurdle was the requirement to have a sufficient number of indicators to be representative of the key sustainability issues, and at the same time to restrict the overall ‘pool’ of indicators to a workable total for use in the decision support tool, CASET. Where possible, the approach focused on identification of composite indicators which would be relevant to more than one guiding principle.

6.2.13       A further important point is that the indicators are intended to focus on “outputs” of environmental, social and economic change, rather than on drivers/causes of change or sectoral interests. This approach has a practical advantage in that it enables changes in different sectors (e.g. transport, waste management, natural resources etc) to be picked up using cross-sectoral indicators (e.g. air quality indicators, GDP or income differential) rather than developing less flexible sector-specific indicators.

6.2.14       More importantly, however, the “outputs” approach recognises that sustainability is concerned with taking a holistic view and that it is the impacts of change, rather than the changes themselves, that are important when establishing how the economy, community or environment is affected by a project or policy.

6.2.15       For example, a point raised frequently during the SUSDEV21 public consultation process was why population was not adopted as a sustainability indicator. The reason is that changes in population and demographic trends are drivers of other effects (e.g. increased natural resource use, strain on community facilities) rather than impacts themselves. A particular population figure is not inherently unsustainable - what is crucial to sustainability are the consumption patterns adopted by a population and their effect on sustainability issues such as resource efficiency, social provision and pollution (1000 people from Los Angeles exert a very different level of pressure on sustainability than do 1000 from Lhasa).

6.2.16       Another important consideration in the selection of indicators for use in the system developed for the HKSAR is whether evaluative criteria could be identified for them. Evaluative criteria provide benchmarks or guidelines to enable the users of CASET to judge whether the change in an indicator, illustrating the impacts of a proposal being assessed, is in a positive or negative direction, and whether the amount of that change is significant or not. In this way, while not seeking to imply whether a change in an indicator is acceptable or not in the overall consideration of the project (this is the role of the decision-maker), the criteria provide information as to the relative scale of the change to an indicator. From this, they provide the decision-maker with a form of reference framework against which the changes to the various indicators affected by a project or policy can be judged.

6.2.17       The next step from the evaluative criteria is the setting of a target value for the indicator concerned, which is a specific threshold (e.g. relating to a statutory guideline or standard) or target for achievement, against which the change in the indicator can be evaluated. The target value can thus be an aspirational figure, either reflecting a level of improvement, or a level of recovery or restoration, to be achieved by some point in the future.

6.2.18       In many instances with the existing SUSDEV21 indicators, however, specific targets have not yet been developed and so the evaluative criterion has been expressed in terms of the preferred direction for a positive change in the indicator (i.e. the evaluative criterion would be that the level of a particular indicator should increase, rather than increase to a particular point).


6.2.19       As the UK Countryside Agency states, Landscape Indicators “need to provide a good indication of change in character…Key characteristics represent the essential character of individual areas but they are too general to act as indicators in their own right. Instead specific features or attributes need to be selected from the key characteristics. These need to be:

6.2.20       “Indicators will need to be defined precisely. The desired direction of change of chosen indicators must be known.” (Countryside Agency, 1999, pp.82-83).


6.3.1         In response to comments made on the Indicators proposed in TR2, a comprehensive review has been carried out. The revised Landscape Indicators are explained in detail in this section.

6.3.2         As with the initial set of Landscape Indicators, two Landscape Indicators are proposed, working in parallel. Both Indicators will monitor change in features with a positive effect on the character of landscape - what are termed Significant Landscape Features in TR2 (SLFs).


6.3.3         SLFs are a measure of positive aspects of landscape character and are linked to both proven consensual and professional judgments as to their contribution to character.

6.3.4         The reason for having two Indicators is that it is not possible to find a basis of measurement which will adequately apply to all types of SLFs. In particular, if one were to measure all SLFs on an area basis, this would not adequately capture the landscape contribution of small buildings or historic structures which may make a big contribution to the visual landscape, but which are very small in terms of area (especially when compared to natural SLFs). Therefore, those SLFs which need to be measured on an area basis and those which need to be measured on a numeric basis are separated out into different categories.

6.3.5         The Indicators will operate by measuring the net loss/gain in the area/number of SLFs of each type. (It is important to understand that there could potentially be a gain of SLFs). The proposed Indicators will therefore be:

6.3.6         A long-list of the two types of Significant Landscape Features is set out in Table 6.2 below. Included in the table are possible sources for the SLFs required to create the indicator layers. This is intended as a guide only for the party responsible for developing the Indicator in the future.

Table 6.2 Long-List of Significant Landscape Features (SLFs)

Significant Landscape Feature

Unit of Measurement

Possible Source


Area-based SLFs


Natural upland topography (over 40mPD)


Land Dept LIC data

Will require some manipulation of source data

Rocky shore (measured as being a horizontal distance of 20m from the coast)


SDU Habitat Map layer
‘Rocky Shore’

Will require some manipulation of source data

Sandy beach


SDU Habitat Map layer
‘Sandy Shore’



Woodland (defined as a group of trees no less than 100 sq.m.


SDU Habitat Map layers:
“Fung Shui Forest’
‘Lowland Forest’
‘Montane Forest’

In order to operate Indicator, different woodland layers needs to be extracted.



SDU Habitat Map layers:
‘Baekia Shrubland’
‘Mixed shrubland’
‘Shrubby Grassland’

As above



SDU Habitat Map layers:




SDU Habitat Map layers:
‘Plantation or Plantation / Mixed Forest’’


Urban parks and public open spaces


PlanD OZP and/or LIC Parks Layer from 1:20,000 data

In order to operate Indicator, data needs to be compiled

Golf Courses


Landscape Value Mapping Study




SDU Habitat Map layer:



Natural stream (permanent)


SDU Habitat Map layer
‘Natural Watercourse’


Wetland (including freshwater marsh, salt marsh and mangrove


SDU Habitat Map layer:
‘Freshwater/brackish Wetland’

In order to operate Indicator, data needs to be compiled

Modified Watercourse


SDU Habitat Map layer
‘Modified Watercourse’


Fish pond and Gei wai


SDU Habitat Map layer
‘Fishpond/Gei Wai’


Open coastal water


Landscape Value Mapping Study (LCM Land/Water boundary)


Inter-tidal mud flat


SDU Habitat Map layer
‘Inter-tidal Mudflat’


Point-based SLFs

Historic monuments, buildings, and other features with a visual manifestation


Compiled under Landscape Value Mapping Study


Landmark buildings (modern buildings which have won HKIA or international awards)


Compiled under Landscape Value Mapping Study


Landmark structures (bridges, structures, etc which have been recognised as making a significant visual contribution to the landscape


Compiled under Landscape Value Mapping Study


Landmark hydrological features (e.g. waterfalls)


Compiled under Landscape Value Mapping Study


Landmark geological/physiographic feature


Compiled under Landscape Value Mapping Study


6.3.7         The two Indicators will be entirely separate and no attempt will be made to aggregate them. Each Indicator expresses landscape change as a positive or negative change in the total area/number of each type of SLF.


6.3.8         As well as the Landscape Indicators described above, a GIS layer should be created and included within the CASET system to allow CASET operators to check if development is proposed within one of the areas of landscape identified in the Study as being of 'high' landscape value, termed Areas of High Landscape Value (or AHLVs).

6.3.9         Areas of High Landscape Value (AHLVs) are those areas of Hong Kong's landscape which meet the highest standards of scenic quality and which are assessed as being 'High' value under the criteria set out in TR2.

6.3.10       It is important to realise that few landscapes are likely to fall into this category and that they therefore represent the very best landscapes in Hong Kong. It is equally important to realise that AHLVs can equally be urban or rural landscapes. Therefore, there is no immediate correlation between naturalness and landscape value.

6.3.11       The AHLV will not form part of the Indicator per se, but will be included as a supporting layer of information visible in the GIS when the Indicator is triggered as with other indictors in the CASET system such as the Area of High Ecological Value indicator. In this way, if development is proposed in an AHLV, the operator of CASET will be provided with a mechanism to check if the proposal falls within one of Hong Kong's best landscapes. It is important to note that the development would not necessarily be precluded should a proposal fall in an AHLV, but that a decision would have to be made as to whether to proceed, based on all other relevant factors (as well as the net loss/gain of SLFs).



6.4.1         The revised Landscape Indicators meet the objections put forward to the Indicators suggested in TR2 in the following ways:

Complexity of the Landscape Indicator

6.4.2         By restricting the Indicators to two types of SLFs, they are considerably simpler and less controversial than the multiple Indicators proposed previously, and consequently more easily understood. Although having two Landscape Indicators is not an ideal situation, it is not unacceptable in CASET terms. Moreover, it is really the only way in which a representative value can be assigned to SLFs of different kinds.

Including Landscape Value in the Indicator

6.4.3         By including an Advisory Mechanism dealing with AHLV, the Indicator addresses landscape value in a practical way. Indeed, this is really the only way in which Landscape Value can be included in the CASET system as the nature of landscape value is such that it cannot conform to a number of the criteria set out above, in particular with regard to being 'measurable'. In fact the only way that 'value' could be included in an Indicator is if a team of Landscape Architects did an ad hoc assessment on the impacts of a proposed development on landscape character.

6.4.4         Other approaches to including landscape value in the Indicator were explored, such as an Indicator that was based on net loss of AHLVs. However the problem of such an Indicator is that it would fail to reflect the large change in landscape value caused by a building with a very small footprint. (Consider the impact of a 60 storey tower block in a Country Park for example - such an Indicator would only reflect the loss of the area of Country Park as opposed to the extensive reduction in visual value occasioned by the visual intrusion of such a building.)

Measuring the Change of Positive Landscape Features

6.4.5         The previous Indicators were criticised for concentrating unduly on all features that were characteristic of a landscape (good or indifferent) rather than features that were positive influence on the landscape. The revised Indicators deal with this objection by measuring only positive aspects of landscape character. In this respect, the revised Indicators are to a greater extent a reflection of positive landscape value, as there is an implicit assumption that each SLF will contribute in a certain way towards landscape value.

Reflecting Only the Visual Aspects of Features of Natural or Heritage Significance

6.4.6         One of the comments on TR2 was that there was potential for overlap between the Landscape Indicators and those for Ecology and for Heritage, as a number of features might be common to two Indicators.

6.4.7         In order to reduce this overlap, whilst still acknowledging the special importance of natural resources and heritage features to the landscape, the revised Indicators will reflect only those historic and ecological features that made a positive contribution to the appearance of the landscape. Features such as buried neolithic sites for example, will not be included in the Indicator, as they are not visible to any significant extent.

Other Characteristics of the Revised Indicators

6.4.8         The Indicators are dual-directional (i.e. they measure whether SLFs are increasing or decreasing). In this way, it is possible to monitor positive and negative change. This is a powerful tool for fully capturing all dimensions of landscape change.

6.4.9         Because all SLFs of each type need to be comparable, it is essential that they all be measured using the same units of measurement. It is acknowledged that this might lead to a certain degree of approximation in quantification of some SLFs, but because the Indicators (and CASET) are for use at a strategic and not a detailed level, this is not considered objectionable.

6.4.10       Finally, it must be acknowledged that for Point-based SLFs, it is not possible to predict positive change (i.e. whether a proposed development will result in a net increase in landmark buildings/ structures/features). With regard to geological or physiographic features, these are to all intents and purposes, un-recreatable. Positive change is therefore not realistically possible. With regard to landmark buildings/structures, this is because the identification of such buildings/structures relies on their being recognised as of value (through the receipt of an award) which is something that cannot be predicted. However, this is not thought to be an objection to the Indicator, as the value of any building or structure is inevitably linked to the age in which it exists and its perceived value can only be recognised contemporaneously or retrospectively. That is to say, buildings and other structures do not have value until people/society decide that they do. Clearly the landmark status of such structures is to a large extent a product of prevailing current aesthetic perspectives and an Indicator based on retrospective recognition only, is probably as good as one can achieve.


6.4.11       The recommended evaluation criteria for the Landscape Indicators will therefore be:

6.4.12       The Indicator Targets will be:

6.4.13       It is important to note that this Target does not preclude loss of certain landscape features, nor does it preclude construction within AHLVs, merely that decision-makers should be aware of developments which affect landscape features which contribute positively to landscape character or which are to take place in Hong Kong's best landscapes.

Example of Operation of Landscape Indicator

6.4.14       In order to better demonstrate how the Landscape Indicator might work, an example of a real-life case is set out below. This demonstration uses the example of the Hong Kong Theme Park which is currently being constructed at Penny's Bay on Lantau.

6.4.15       Figures 6.1 to 6.4 demonstrate the approximate extent of the Theme park project, and the SLFs affected by the project. In fact only area-based SLF exist in the vicinity of the Theme Park and therefore only it has the potential to be effected. The SLFs affected are:

6.4.16       Together these SLFs when added together form the TOTAL SLF AREA AFFECTED BY DEVELOPMENT. For the purposes of calculation, we shall call this 'W'ha.

6.4.17       It should be noted that the Theme Park project will result however in the gain of SLFs, notably:

6.4.18       To calculate the change in Area of SLF affected, use the following formula:

6.4.19       where Z is the net positive or negative change in area of SLFs.

6.4.20       Therefore, to calculate the % change to SLFs affected, use the following formula:

6.4.21       In addition, reference to the Landscape Character Map and GIS Database will demonstrate that Penny's Bay is not an Area of High Landscape Value (AHLV) and may therefore be a potentially appropriate location for the proposed theme park development.


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